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This is the 3rd outing for Coheed and Cambria, the prog-rock wizards from the East Coast, yet it has a massive "IV" emblazoned on the front of it. This is because it's the first half of the fourth part of an on-going saga which is part comic book, part musical story known as the Amory Wars (formerly the Bag.On.Line adventures). Sounds confusing? That's because it is.
Claudio Sanchez, the creative force behind C&C, conjures up musical imagery to suit the vast, expansive quasi-religious sci-fi story he has been developing over the years. The tale is confusing to follow, but ultimately rewarding to delve into, with an epic arc involving some interesting characters; I won't go into detail here as that is best kept for reviews of the graphic novels which accompany the series, but if you find ideas such as humanoid robots, sibling rivalry, insanity, God, angels, interplanetary warfare and the destruction of an entire solar system balanced upon the function of one man's heart, this might be of interest to you...
So, story aside, what of the music? This is by far their most experimental album to date, and showcases the band leaning much more heavily on their classic rock, metal and prog roots. It opens with some serene strings and acoustic work on "Keeping the Blade" and "Always and Never"; a gentle lull into some fiery tracks. "Welcome Home" will be recognised by every Guitar Hero wielding teenager, and has a lumbering riff to it reminiscent of "Kashmir" by Led Zeppelin. "Wake Up" is a gorgeous dream-like number, and some heavier sounds come through on tracks like "Ten Speed" and "Writing Writer". However, the album does take a real slump in the middle, but is saved at the end by the wonderful Willing Well suite. This finishes it with a 4 part closer, and is bizarrely arranged with space-moog, duelling guitars, epic solos and some very weird words. Oh, and a hidden mutt with a slide guitar, to boot...
The guitar work is intricate, the time signatures complex, the lyricism obscure yet tantalising. The two main criticisms often levelled at the band are an emo band (they're not, they write songs about murderers and stellar destruction, not whiny garbage about how appalling middle-class teenage life in a First World country is) and Claudio's voice is too high pitched. Well, I like his voice. It is unique, and gives the band an identity far flung from countless other American rock bands trying to sound like Nickelback. Finally, and the album artwork is superb, with wonderfully fantastical and moody work from Christopher Shy; a leading sci-fi and fantasy artist who gives the whole package an eerie feel.
Yes, it's bombastic and epic, but it's supposed to be, just like the story it tells. Worth a buy if you like Pink Floyd, Queensryche, Zeppelin, Dream Theater or Rush.
Despite the cumbersome title, the third studio album from Coheed and Cambria lacks none of the panache of their earlier releases and is a punchy, visceral and confrontational slice of entirely indulgent guitar metal greatness.
While it is part of a nominal tetralogy based around the events of the story arc catalogued in lead singer Claudio Sanchez's Amory Wars comic, it is a non-linear sequel and events jump between the original tale of galactic war and a new, increasingly self-reflexive story that in which the life and loves of the story narrator start to bleed through into his work.
This might sound somewhat thematically over the top for an album, the group are no strangers to the complex narratives and reading my reviews of the earlier albums ('A heady cocktail of heavy metal, space opera and madness' and 'Don't keep this noisy triumph a secret') will help make sense of it all!
Claudio Sanchez - Lead vocals, lead and rhythm guitar
Travis Stever - Lead and rhythm guitar, lap steel and vocals
Michael Todd - bass and vocals
Josh Eppard - Drums, percussion, keyboards and vocals
Interestingly enough, the album also has credits for electric tambourine, ukulele, elephant sounds and didgeridoo!
*These go to eleven!*
As well as the confusing story and the wonderful vocals of the group (particularly Claudio's schizophrenic and frequent changes from 'squeaky girl' to rock god), this album is musically up to the standard of their earlier releases and a barrage of frenetic guitar tracks, widespread riffage and well-timed percussion set the standard for an album that is decidedly lengthier than the first two. The choruses are angry and meaty, occasional female lyrics blend in well with the yells of the boys and everybody sounds like they're having fun!
*Save, download, avoid*
The quality on this album is a bit more varied than the other studio albums and there are some tracks that make the others look a bit amateur.
'Welcome Home' - A brilliant call to arms, with lyrics that you can sing along, guitars so furious they'll strip your skin off if your stereo is up too high and more headbanging moments than an Iron Maiden concert.
'Ten Speed: of God's blood and Burial' - The real intro the album, this song pulses with energy, licks and harmonised, layered choruses. Oddly enough, it's about a possessed bicycle that's trying to make the narrator kill off his characters..
'Once Upon Your Dead Body' - Characterised by somewhat creepy lyrics (and beginning with the wonderful comment 'if hello could only drop its 'o'), this song starts off slow and builds to an anguished crescendo. It also features some fairly naff keyboard effects towards the end - you have been warned.
'The Suffering' - Truly fantastic heavy metal track, with a lot of top quality noise, clever use of snappy boy/girl vocal changes and guitars that will make you jump around your kitchen in a series of sad air guitar moments :D
All of it - like all Coheed and Cambria albums, this works best as a whole.
'Always and Never' - A slower track which I have never been able to get into.
'Apollo I: The Writing Writer' - This would have been a great track if the first four minutes were as good as the last one... Too much story, not enough rock!
The last four tracks are hived off into an album within and album called 'The Willing Well'. The last of these, 'The Final Cut'' is a little offbeat for my liking and doesn't real add anything to the album in terms of style or substance. It features an odd 'Tubular Bells' section and a jangly western/vaguely Hispanic outro that is something of a cop out at the end of an album of blisteringly good heavy metal.
Still - it's a great CD all in all and definitely one for you armchair heavy metal fans to add to your wish lists. I'm marking it down a star for being a bit overly ambitious at times. It's a real shame, because this would probably be the best heavy metal album ever if they'd managed to marry together the mix of art and music that they seem to be going for throughout.
Coheed And Cambria have always been near the top of my favourite bands list, even though there not the heavy sort of music im into. They are there because i believe them to be musical genious. This may seem like an overstatement at first, but if you listen intently to the instrumentals and the lyrics, every song portrays a story that links in with almost every song Coheed And Cambria have released. The album Im burning start IV, is apparently (and i may be wrong) the first album of the foretold 'story' even though it is not their first studio release. The album itself is full of songs that really show off the talent and mentality that the band members have and their willingness to perform musical masterpieces. For me, The Suffering is the best song on the album, and it has a really catchy chorus tha really gets you into the song. Claudio Sanchez' voice to some people may be exceedingly annoying, but its bareable when the intrusmentsalists are playing this well.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Keeping The Blade
2 Always And Never
3 Welcome Home
4 Ten Speed (Of God's Blood And Burial)
5 Crossing The Frame
6 Apollo I (The Writing Writer)
7 Once Upon Your Dead Body
8 Wake Up
10 Lying Lies And Dirty Secrets Of Miss Erica Court
11 Mother May I
12 Fuel For The Feeding End
13 From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness
14 Apollo II (The Telling Truth)
15 Final Cut